Monday, 28 September 2009

Meet the Continental cousins

With this post, I'm crossing over in the subject matter of my other blog Ecothrifter, but surely I can post about food here too as eating good grub is an important element of family life.

At weekends my partner, little girl and I enjoy a cooked breakfast - it is not necessarily a traditional English fry up, we like to explore 'exotic' options too.

This weekend I opted for two Continental cousins of Welsh rarebit and the less sophisticated Cheese on Toast: Croque monsieur (pictured on top) and Mozzarella in Carrozza (pictured below). Technically they are not breakfast dishes, more like snacks, but on a coldish morning they are very welcome in our household.

There is a variance to the Croque Monsieur, which is called Croque Madame, both very popular in France and Belgium. Croque Madame has a cooked egg on top. Mozzarella in Carrozza is classed as a starter over here - I believe it originates from southern Italy.

Michela likes both, but her favourite is eggy bread, which is a common snack in northern Italy. If you'd like to have a go, read below!

Croque Monsieur (serves 4)
50g spreading butter
8 slices white or brown bread
2 tablespoons of Mustard
200g Gruyere Cheese, grated
8 slices of ham
oil for frying
Spread the butter on one side of all the slices of bread. Spread the mustard on top of the butter (spread less mustard on the kids' croques). Turn 4 slices around (possibly on a tray/plate otherwise you get butter/mustard all over your worktop), divide the cheese and ham between them, top with the other 4 slices (all buttered sides externally). Press well, you can also tie these 'parcels' with cooking string to keep them together. Fry until golden on both sides (if you use a non stick pan you don't need too much oil). Plate up, remove string if used and serve hot!

Mozzarella in Carrozza (serves 4)
8 slices of bread (possibly dry/toasted)
1x 200g pack fresh mozzarella, drained
2 eggs
salt and pepper
120ml milk
plain flour to scatter
oil for frying
Cut the crusts of bread and cut into slices around 10 x 7cm (As I'm anal, I use a plastic ruler, but basically you want a rectangular shape). Slice the mozzarella in four pieces. Beat the eggs in a jug and season with salt and pepper. Pour milk in a flattish dish and dip all the slices of bread on one side (a tray/big plate can be handy here too). Place the mozzarella on the dry side of four slices. Season and top with other slices. Scatter little flour on both sides of your sandwiches, then dip them in the egg (you can use the same dish you used for the milk as milk has been used up). Some restaurants deep fry these mozzarella sarnies but I prefer to fry in a non-stick pan with little oil. Fry till golden on both sides and serve. The mozzarella inside should be melted, so don't cook on too high heat otherwise the outside will get scorched quickly. Drain excess oil by placing mozzarella sarnies on kitchen towel.

No top tip this week, but a recipe for Michela's favourite: eggy bread. Dip stale bread (you can use toasted bread, stale baguette cut in roundlets or any other bread in chunks) into some milk poured in a flattish dish (the quantity depends on how much bread you're using, you can pour gradually to avoid waste). Sprinkle with flour on both sides (handle carefully or the bread will fall apart). If you're using a good amount of bread you will need two eggs, beaten with a bit of sugar in a flattish dish. Dip your bread in the egg. Fry the eggy bread in a non stick pan if you can as you need less oil. Drain excess oil by placing eggy bread on kitchen towel. Serve warm. If your partner likes brown sauce, you might want to put less sugar in so he can have it as a savoury. I scatter extra sugar of top of my eggy bread bits. It's a popular Italian snack, although my mum didn't make it that often as she complained that it stank her kitchen. So use your extractor fan or open a window/door.
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Friday, 18 September 2009

Breastfeeding as a parenting tool

On Fridays I volunteer at a local breastfeeding cafe. I used to do that in London, alongside one of my tutors (I think I mentioned in my first or second post that I did a breastfeeding course with a charity). Anyhow, I have been supporting breastfeeding mums for around a year and a half and it has been one of the most satisfying things that I have ever done. I'm not discounting other volunteering work I do for the NCT, but seeing tiny babies grow into beautiful, healthy toddlers can't be topped!

After this intro, allow me to take my breastfeeding volunteer's hat off and talk about my personal experiences (as a volunteer you are discouraged to use your own experience - the aim is to provide evidence-based, unbiased information). So with my hat off, let's talk about why I still breastfeed my two year old (pictured above). If I have to explain it in a nutshell, I'd use the expression I once encountered in the BfN's newsletter and which forms the title of this blog.

How can breastfeeding be a parenting tool? First of all, let me add that Michela drinks cow milk and eats plenty of dairy,  so breastmilk is not a 'necessity'.

Tool no.1: if she is naughty and I am running out of patience,  I say that I will give the breastmilk to her dad instead or even have it myself (sounds silly but it works). Of course I won't deprive her, but the threat is enough. Tool no.2: breastmilk is convenient and full of goodness. This became more apparent when we travelled across France and all the hotels had no fridges so I didn't have anywhere to store cow milk for her (I did order it in one cafe and they brought over the UHT milk, which is foul tasting to say the least). And the goodness? Well, breastmilk is packed with antibodies that fight disease - they also protect your baby from short/long-term health problems (and the mum, too, for more info click here). Well, it did work wonders for us as Michela has been to the GP twice since birth for illnesses (once for an eye infection passed on by another baby and the second time when she contracted a stomach bug). She has had colds but they don't last long and they are never serious. While I was very ill with my cough and cold she just had a little sniffle.

Let me make something clear now, I am not afraid to mention the F word (as in formula) and will not judge mothers who cannot or don't breastfeed - with my breastfeeding helper hat's and the NCT's one on, I aim to support all mums' choices. The NCT publishes a really lovely sheet called Reasons to Be Proud, which shows the benefits of even just one breastfeed for mum and baby (list goes up to 2 years of age).

Back to my theme. I have listed discipline and health and I will now add sleep aid as tool no.3. The only way to get Michela to have a daytime nap is to lure her into my bed for a breastfeed. And of course, it's very handy in the evening - no sleep routine needed. When she is gone, my partner transfers her in her bed.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had gone back to work inhouse. Well, I could have breastfed her in the mornings and/or evenings and at weekends. At this stage, whatever the frequency, the supply is there. Whether she breastfeeds once a day, three times or more, milk is made on demand.

I'm sure there are other tools to be added, but these are the main ones and they make my life easier. The WHO and Unicef recommend breastfeeding until 2 and beyond. This is crucial in countries where unsanitary conditions make formula feeding a health hazard for the babies. Don't take my word for granted, click here.

So why were mums who breastfeed toddlers and older children treated as freaks in the TV programme Extreme Breastfeeding? The reason is simple, ignorance. When Michela was a tiny baby and I saw a woman breastfeeding a toddler at a drop in for mums, I thought it was freakish. Now I'm the freak. That's poetic justice for you!

My top tips: more than tips, I'd like to recommend this site for any breastfeeding problem (it's incredibly comprehensive and it was recommended to me by my BfN tutors). For an overview of organisations that help breastfeeding mums, read; for tips on positioning and attachment, read

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Birthday sniffles

On Monday it was my birthday. I'm now 43, although Michela (bless her) tells whoever asks that I'm 21. We celebrated on Saturday with my inlaws. It was a glorious sunny day and we had chocolate cake in the garden. My MIL brought the beautiful flower arrangement pictured above. I was touched that she made it for me and brought a cake, presents and cards - my parents and relatives all live in Italy so it's nice to feel part of a family here.

My horrid cough and cold combo didn't spoil the day - we walked to the town centre to see an art exhibition, but I was pretty knackered in the evening.

A few days on and the cold is still with me in a horrid permutation that makes me sneeze and cough slimy yellowy stuff. As I cough, sneeze and splutter, Michela is in great form, possibly because she gets her immunity from breastmilk (yes, I'm still breastfeeding my toddler).

Her needs come first so early every morning I'm being dragged out of bed to accomplish the rituals of her 'routine'. She is trying to get by with less input from me, but she keeps hinting at trips to the swings and walks in town - which I cannot provide. So I take her out in the garden and we have a less than enthusiastic footie game (on my part) to make out for her being cooped in.

While I kick the ball, I long to be in bed, reading a book and being brought hot drinks by my partner. Unfortunately it's a pipe dream as he is back working in London.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Letting off some steam

The inlaws are coming tomorrow so I've spent most of the morning doing chores. Michela was eager to help, but remembering last time I trusted her with a dustpan, I pacified her with her favourite snack 'apple and nana in a bigger bowl' [her own words] and nearly new paper [some redundant one-sided photocopies] on her drawing table.

So while she was busy chomping on fruit and drawing circles all over the paper and table, I scrubbed my dirty cooker, loaded the dishwasher, washed up the items that are not dishwasher friendly and hung the wash out to dry.

I was about to relax and make myself a cup of tea, but the sight of the kettle made me reach for the descaler. I don't know what is in the water here in the Midlands but the inside of my plastic kettle is brown. I have never seen brown limescale before - the London equivalent was a more appealing golden hue.

A sachet of Oust and 15 minutes later my kettle was sparkly white, the metal coil as shiny as silver. Having tried alternative methods before I have never experienced such a satisfaction and no elbow grease needed! I have tried to be green about it, using vinegar once and soda crystals plus raw potato another time but the results were far than satisfactory as I don't descale that frequently and there is always a good build up inside.

And don't start me on steel kettles! I used to have one that looked great on my kitchen worktop, except it was a pain to descale. I remember emailing Oust to enquire why their wonderful product was not doing the job and being told that steel kettles are a magnet to limescale so I'd need to buy a special product, which, of course was not stocked at my local supermarket. So after a lot of scrubbing, the steel kettle ended up on Freecycle and we purchased a plastic one. There you go, you have been warned about steel kettles!

My top tips: if you want to be green, there is some good advice on Times Online and if you have a descaling fetish, why not browse my Google Search? There is even a video about the subject. Happy Descaling!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Fisherman's Friend is my only pal

I contracted a nasty cold after I came back from holiday - it must have been the shock of going from 30-40C to 20C or below. These past days I have been typing away while sucking an extra strong Fisherman's Friend, which is the only lozenge that can tackle my horrid cough.

I hate being unwell and having a toddler to look after I cannot rest. So instead of lying in bed with a book I'm running errands for Michela (Mummy, I want something to eat - she is a great snacker and we had to fit the fridge with a lock - Mummy; I want some milk/juice; Mummy, I want to watch the Big Bird video; Mummy, I want to play with sand, Mummy I want to see photos on your computer and so on...), trying to finish the NCT newsletter and putting together reviews of baby products for MadeForMums.

Still I like being busy and even if I could, I would not stay in bed all day, nor watch ghastly daytime TV. Maybe I can take myself, a handful of Fisherman's Friend lozenges and Michela in the garden to soak the sunshine - and bring out the wash too. Perhaps I will pick up a few windfall apples too. Then it's back to the grindstone.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Is TV my Supernanny?

This is a rhetoric question because since we’ve been back from our holidays, Michela has been watching TV for longer than I’m comfortable with.

I tell myself: ‘At least she’s watching educational videos/DVD (Spot’s Alphabet, Mr Men’s Alphabet, Postman Pat’s 123, Animal Numbers, Fun with ABC and Mister Fuzzy Felt's Nursery Rhymes) and quality programmes like Titch, Sesame Street, In the Night Garden and Noddy (the puppet series).

Although she’s only 2, she's articulate, keen on counting (up to 20 now and can do simple maths) and learning to read (she can read Toyota on my partner’s car). She loves books and reads in bed with me most mornings. She also likes being active - if I propose a fun activity, she will forgo the TV and join in. And often the TV becomes a background noise as she starts playing with her toys.

However, despite all these buts, I feel I’m guilty of parking her in front of the TV so I can get on with writing or doing household chores.

Experts’ views
Dr Aric Sigman, associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, told MPs in 2007 that watching TV puts children at risk of health problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity. He recommended that children under three shouldn't be exposed to TV at all. And children between three and seven should watch no more than 30 minutes to an hour a day. He also asked the Government to publish recommended daily guidelines for TV watching.

Other experts are less extreme in their views, advising parents to choose TV programmes with an educational value, in which the fun factor can foster learning. They also recommend parents to watch TV with their children – which I sometimes do as I love kids programmes (I admit I bought the full series of Bagpuss for myself). The key is to strike the right balance and set limits.

This is all very well with an older child, but it’s quite hard to reason with a clever toddler going through the Terrible Twos phase. And she is not easy to manipulate either, she always knew what she wanted since the start – remember her hatred of the Moses basket?

Another piece of advice is to lead by example. Well, I rarely watch daytime TV, I’m mostly online, working on something or other. But as soon as alarm bells ring, I switch off the TV and try to suggest some activity for her to do, and mostly end up having to play with her.

It’s hard as I want to spend time with her but she expects me to be her playmate all day long. As she refuses to go to sleep in the afternoon and goes to bed between 8 and 9pm, I am struggling to keep up. After a bit of play with her, I get tired and/or need to do some work and the TV goes back on. This is especially true of rainy days, today it’s sunny so she is happily playing with sand in the garden as I type.

In his report, Dr Sigman stated that, aside the health risks, allowing children under three to watch TV can impair their social and linguistic development. I’m not sure about this bit, Michela could speak well since she was one and she has an amazing repertoire of nursery rhymes which she sings at home and when we are out and about. I often join in while we are cruising the supermarket’s aisles. Plus she learnt to count/recognise figures from a TV programme.

What do you think?
But enough about me and let’s hear from other parents. I kick off the debate with opinions that were posted on the NCT editors’ forum when Dr Sigman’s report hit the headlines.

argues that there are some wonderful television shows and DVDs that demand action by children and probably parents too. ‘Who could watch the Wiggles without dancing and singing along? What better way to learn the alphabet than with Elmo’s gentle guidance? How many of us have tried trickle painting or made crazy icecream sundaes with our children after watching Teletubbies? As for Sigman’s language anxiety – how many of us have seen our children’s language expand exponentially as they learn words and phrases from their favourite shows? Or seen them gradually learning social conventions from examples on screen and then apply them with growing confidence in everyday life? It seems strange to me that Dr Sigman is worried about children not having any attention span… because they are paying too much attention to the television! I say embrace the learning and entertainment possibilities that televisual entertainment – particularly DVDs – offers to us and our children!’

Another editor also called Emma says: ‘I was really relieved to hear of another mum who, like me, has the TV on most of the day in the background. It seems to be becoming such a taboo to admit your children watch any TV but it's fairly obvious when they know the catchphrases and can identify names of every character in the programmes! My son is also nearly 3 and has a great vocabulary, and I have no worries with him developmentally at all. In fact the programme Numberjacks taught him to count. How can that possibly be a bad thing? I talk to him about the programmes and we make up stories about the characters. TV is such a stimulating medium that, in the right hands, it can be a fantastic tool to your child's development. Obviously you do have to be selective. I stick solely to the programmes that are designed for his age group, and try to avoid channels with adverts (although it does make me laugh when he says with a very serious expression that he wants the Barbie fairy karaoke wings!!). Another great thing about having the TV on very often is that it stops being a “big thing”, and he doesn't beg to watch it or complain if we turn it off. Also round friends' houses its not a problem if it isn't on. Finally, I watch quite a bit of TV myself and always have, and I refuse to be a hypocrite and say it’s not good for you. I'm a teacher so it can't have done me too much harm.’

Pete says: ‘Let's start with how much my two children are allowed to watch: Isaac - aged 8 and Abigail - aged 10. In the week - none before school, and possibly 30 mins after tea. During the weekend, one hour or so before breakfast, and maybe two hours in the evening. They watch The Simpsons - good to develop an alternative sense of humour (though most of it goes over their heads); wildlife; cookery programmes, Scrap Heap Challenge. They used to watch Tellytubbies, Fimbles, the usual stuff, plus Tom & Jerry (nothing wrong about politically incorrect cartoon violence); Danger Mouse and Art Attack (they still love it). To be honest we have controlled their telly watching for the following reasons:
1. If they watch too much before breakfast they get very 'arsy' afterwards
2. There's a wide world out their waiting to be explored
3. It makes it more of a treat when we actually sit down for 3 hours on a rainy day and watch a Harry Potter DVD or back to back Blue Planet on DVD
4. As parents we have never been great TV watchers
My daughter would watch TV for England given half the chance, but Isaac gets bored after an hour and will go find something else to do. My view is that report is a bit simplistic. I suspect that parents who do not partake of the appropriate social intercourse with children are more of a contributory factor in terms of brain developement, and if the parents are sedentary then I suppose the childern may also take on that aspect of obesity.
I would say TV is a catalyst to conditions, just like the motor car is in terms of making us fat and lazy, and socially isolated in our travelling environment. If we had no cars, more children might play in the streets, and actually find less reasons to watch TV.
So I think TV (like the car) when used appropriately can be used to broaden the education of children, however to let them sit in front of the inane guff that is on Cartoon network does not do them nay harm if it is balanced with other TV and non TV activities. Abigail has always been advanced for her age, with an IQ somewhere about 2 years ahead of her actual age, and Isaac has an IQ 4 years ahead of his age. We did a lot of reading with them when they were younger, and also where ever we went we would point out things. In some ways we behaved a bit like Telletubbies ourselves by pointing out and observing what was going on. I also take a view that Dr Aric is probably a psychologist not a scientist, and maybe parents should read Mapping The Mind by Rita Carter, a fascinating book that talks on simple language about how the human brain works, and why it has evolved to be so, and talks how lack of love and attention is a huge factor in children.

My top tips: if you want to keep your baby entertained while you're busy, read If you have a toddler, read I’m going to give play dough a whirl next time it rains! And if you want to get out and about with other like-minded parents, why not join the NCT? I love their socials! Visit
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Monday, 7 September 2009

Travel with a toddler... Grenoble, Beaune & Arras

When we reached my parents' house in Piedmont, we had a good rest. The car hardly moved as we visited relatives, ate and enjoyed the celebrations of the Feast of the Patron Saint. There were concerts, fireworks and rides. Michela had her first experience of a funfair as a 'passenger' rather than an onlooker. After enjoying warm weather and hospitality for nine days we left on an overcast Sunday morning. Our first stop in France was Grenoble. We took the teleferic up to the mountain pictured above, where there is an old fort and decided to walk down. The views were worth it but the journey down the mountain proved treacherous.

I had forgotten how long it takes to go down mountain paths, this one was 2.5km long and full of stones. It's a miracle our stroller survived the bumpy ride. I had asked a French couple before I bought my one-way ticket and they had assured me it was doable - we did it but Michael had quite a job pushing the stroller down as stones, tree roots and rocky bumps interfered with the wheels. Hats off to Bruin for their sturdy strollers!

If you visit Grenoble on a Sunday, like we did, all the shops are shut in the afternoon, even the supermarkets and some restaurants. We asked a local woman and discovered the Arab quarter, where we found a spice shop that sold groceries.

As we had time left, we visited a museum. There are two free museums in town, we opted for the historical one, which had ancient foundations of a baptisphere in the basement. This was the only museum we visited during the whole trip as the weather was so good we wanted to spend time outdoors. Our stops were also quite short, as we had only half a day or less to visit each town.

Next day we were in Beaune. The old town is like a circle surrounded by walls. We had a good walk on the ramparts too, after walking around the streets full of enticing shops selling wine, food and local delicacies. In one of the squares there was an old-fashioned fairground ride (pictured below). We had one of the best evening meals here - all regional specialities.

Last stop was Arras, which is not far from Calais. It is town with plenty of Flemish buildings (see photo below) and robust cuisine. We had a huge evening meal very cheaply and we had the restaurant for ourselves as the local fete had terminated and it was a Tuesday night. Very few tourists were about as it was early September.

Throughout our road trip we have been a bit edgy about Michela's behaviour in restaurants. They never have plastic glasses so we had to watch her handle a glass tumbler and stop her from misbehaving, which she is fond of doing to attract attention. This time there was nobody to impress so she behaved better.

My top tip: if you want to enjoy a dinner meal with a toddler in tow, bring with you a plastic beaker and feed your child beforehand as they get hungry earlier than you. At the restaurant order them a treat, such as a plate of chips, an ice cream or their favourite snack. Even a glass of cold milk with a straw can keep them occupied! On the last evening we brought two board books too, so she could 'read' a bit while we ate.
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Travel with a toddler... Auxerre & Annecy

Auxerre is a charming medieval town with narrow streets. We stayed at a hotel in the old town, which looked like a private dwelling. Our room was in an annexe in the courtyard. This type of houses are common, we found the charming brocante pictured above in another house, converted as an antiques shop. Downtown I recommend walking by the riverside, but do mind the mosquitoes at night!

On the way to Annecy, our final stop before Italy, we visited the Aire de Jugy. Aires are stops on the motorway that offer picnic facilites and toilets. Sometimes there are good restaurants and cafes too, so you can choose to eat in or bring your own.

If you want to eat at an aire, I recommend the Autogrill chain, which runs good establishments with great facilities. Their map is very good, although we had a Tom Tom, we often consulted it as even minor towns are clearly shown.

French motorways might be one of the most expensive in Europe but they are superb and in many tracts there was so little traffic the drive was relaxing too. Back to the Aire de Jugy, this is worth a stop because there are free play facilities shaped like mushrooms. Michela (pictured below) had a good time, as much as riding the hotel owner's big dog at Auxerre, which seemed to be trained to give children's rides. Pity I didn't snap her.

We arrived in Annecy early in the afternoon and it was sweltering, despite its proximity to the Alps. It's the cutest town I've ever seen, with plenty to see and do. It has narrow streets, old buildings, a castle on the hill, a river through it (see picture below) and restaurants spilling their tables on its banks. The local speciality are tartiflettes, which we couldn't sample. Annecy is very touristy so going to dinner at 9pm, like we did, is a no no.

There is also a grassy beach, basically a park by the lake and plenty of people were swimming. I regret not having a boat trip and not knowing about a beautiful outdoor pool, which only cost 8 euros for the three of us (Michela was too young to pay). Shame on the Rough Guide, for not mentioning this pool!

On the way to Italy we stopped at the Aire du Grenier, which had free games, such as a bouncing castle, table footy, a climbing frame, various table games and puzzles. The restaurants had a play area with books, a plastic kitchen and colouring materials.

My top tip: if you haven't got a portable dvd to entertain your toddler, take CDs of nursery rhymes and books. Car snacks are also essential (dried fruit, cereal bars, fresh French bread, madeleines, fruit...) to keep your toddler happy. They won't wait till the next stop if they are peckish.

Travel with a toddler... Boulogne-Sur-Mer

Like last year, we drove our Toyota from England to Italy via France. We chose different stops on the way and Michela is one year older (she's two), which meant less stuff to carry with us.

The weather was exceptionally hot, with highs of 40C in certain areas. First stop was Boulogne (near Calais), which was recommended in this blog We combined Mike's itinerary with the information in our Rough Guide to France (good maps for most towns, so no trips to Tourist Centre needed!).

The photo above was taken on its lovely beach - you can see a fishing boat in the background. The water is quite shallow so it isn't freezing cold - no need to rub fat on me like those daredevils who swim the channel. Fresh fish is sold on the quai - great if you are in self-catering accommodation. I enjoyed a lovely pot of mussels for just 7 euros in one of the local restaurants. Michela had ham as she is too young to eat seafood.

The old town is up a hill and quite charming. In the main square there was an art installation that involved cars, mopeds and bikes in a natural setup. The greenhouse pictured at the bottom of this post is made of windshields and there is a bike decked with greenery in front of it.

While you visit the old town, spare some time for a walk on the ramparts. These are surprisingly spacious and offer good views. We also enjoyed an art exhibition in the library, which has a cloister cultivated as a veggie garden.

My top tip: visit before you leave the UK. Read about last year's trip at (stops were Reims, Dijon, Troyes, Lyon and Le Touquet).

UPDATE: I'm hoping to do this trip again... Read the other blog posts in this series:
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The story so far... part two

I went into labour on Easter Monday. Giving birth was a relief rather than a scary experience - the size of my bump had made my life difficult in the last months, with back pain, sciatica, a spot of haemorrhoids... My partner timed me walking (a personal joke) and it would take me double the time to reach the shops.

I pushed Michela Celeste out in the world on 10 April at 8am. Gas and air made me high (I've never taken drugs before but my partner says that I kept talking and laughing while lying on the hospital bed). I remember being pain free for most of it, also thanks to a diamorphine (or was it pethidine) injection. Michela being a big girl (she weighed in at 8lb 2oz and was 52cm long), it took me hours to push her out and I was exhausted. I think my first words were: ‘She doesn’t look like me at all.’ Unexpectedly, my partner Michael burst into tears of joy.

I went home on the same day as I was frustrated with postnatal care. The photo above was taken the day after. While enjoying my newborn, I thought of adding a third name, perhaps April (Michael’s surname being Lamb) or Spring but then decided it was cruel rather than cute. Michela is the Italian, feminine version of Michael and Celeste is spelled the same in both languages. I realised later that the reason it came in my head was because it’s a family name. Also Celeste suggests celestial, which given that Michael means God Like, was a sort of synonym – but I disgress again!

The first weeks were a shock to both of us as sleep deprivation drove us mental. We had many arguments and resorted to co-sleeping as Michela hated her Moses basket. I chose to breastfeed, although Michael had a go with the bottle so he could feed her once a day. This was a source of arguments as I had problems expressing breastmilk and didn't want to use formula.

I told my birth story in the NCT newsletter and in a baby magazine and also commented on being an older mum for another publication. Being an ‘old’ mum means you’re more financially secure, can take a career break and you are calmer, less scared by things and more inclined to argue your way if health professionals give you advice you don’t agree with. On the downside, you are more tired so your evening outings are put on hold. I didn’t mind too much and found day outings I could take Michela to. The NCT socials and the sessions at the SureStart children’s centre were more than enough.

Michael took three months off work to be with us and it was the best gift ever. When he went back it was a huge shock and I had to plan my day carefully. I remember being desperate to go to the toilet but having to hold as Michela needed changing and/or feeding. I’m certain my bladder broke Olympic records.

Michela proved to be a nipple feeder and although it was painful, I persisted with breastfeeding. I weaned her the traditional way. Read my experience, plus information on traditional and baby-led weaning at If could go back in time I’d try a mix of traditional and baby-led weaning.

When Michela was one, I introduced cow milk but still breastfed. By then I was doing a course to become a breastfeeding helper and from the spring of 2008 I started volunteering at a BF cafe in Leyton. As I was still co-editing the NCT newsletter, I was quite busy.

In August we sold our house in London and relocated to Rugby, where I took over the NCT newsletter and started volunteering at the local BF cafe. If you're curious about it, visit The cafe has recently attracted local and national press coverage because it's launching a breastfeeding calendar.

Sadly, we are planning to relocate again. We've been touring all the counties commutable to London, as far as Lincolnshire (I could write a relocation blog with all we have been through) and are now set on Cambridge, where there is less property up for sale, the prices are still high and people are desperate to secure properties. We have been outbid on a lovely house by 20K and we might end up in rental again!

Michela is now two and still at home. In the past year I've been doing a bit of journo work and teaching Italian. The recession has hit the publishing industry hard but as I’m looking after my daughter full time, it hasn't ‘affected’ me too badly. I’m happy to work from home and diversify if things don’t pick up.

My top tip: if you experience any problems breastfeeding, seek help from the start. To find out about the charities who help breastfeeding mothers, read this article at

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The story so far... part one

When I got pregnant in August 2006 I didn't know what to expect. I was a 39-year-old freelance subeditor working inhouse for several magazines based in London and loved my job. My main focuses were to climb the career and property ladders while enjoying all London had to offer in term of culture, sights and entertainment.

The first three months were hard – forget the nausea, my main problems was a crippling tiredness that made me crave sleep, which was inconvenient as my job involved staring at a computer while tinkering with Quark or InDesign. I remember editing a dry financial feature and fighting the urge to doze off.

And don’t start me on the commute to work, I rarely got a seat even when my bump showed, despite wearing the London Underground’s Baby on Board badge. I’m not knocking the badge, it’s a great idea as some men cannot distinguish between a fat and a pregnant belly (I was once offered a seat because my belly was bloated due to period pains, although I’m not so sure it was the belly or the short skirt that did it – but I’m disgressing here!).

As my belly grew disproportionally big to my petite frame, the nausea vanished but the tiredness didn’t and I started to have back pain too. Having an aching body, a fuzzy, sleepy head and a huge belly that touched the desk made my job less than desirable – as a hot-desking freelancer you are expected to give your all and don’t get the perks of pregnant staffers.

I went on maternity leave early, towards the end of January. I was getting all the rest I craved but my days felt too dull. So I started working on the novel I have been neglecting for years then volunteered to coedit the local NCT newsletter. This proved to be a lifesaver as I kept my skills sharp and learnt about creating a newsletter from scratch, which included writing the copy, commissioning, dealing with advertisers, making the most of real-life stories and members’ tips, designing the pages and sourcing free photography.

Closer to my due date, I attended an NCT class, which I highly recommend as you cannot have enough information about birth choices, breastfeeding and surviving the first months as a parent If you want to find out about the NCT and what it offers to parents, visit

Local NCT branches throw a lifeline to parents and they are also a great social network – invaluable when all your friends are still single and/or childless. They won’t be as interested in your baby’s green poo and won’t have a clue on where to find a teether that works.

My top tip: when I was pregnant (pic shows me in my swimming costume at three months) I did an improver swimming course. When the course finished I kept swimming till close to the birth. I recommend swimming highly as the water supports your bump so you feel light and free - it's gentle exercise, too. Just don't use the breast stroke, as it's not recommended to pregnant women because of the softness of your ligaments during pregnancy.

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